Research across the Open Doors World Watch List has shown that persecution of Christian women is often highly violent, complex and hidden. Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland is urging people to join the Open Doors See. Change. campaign which aims to ensure that women, who are vulnerable because of both their faith and gender, are seen, heard and empowered to change their lives.
Henrietta said, ”I was deeply moved by Esther, from North East Nigeria, who was held prisoner and forced to marry a Boko Haram fighter. Esther managed to escape but when she returned to her community she was rejected and the villagers called her baby girl ‘Boko’ instead of Rebecca. We helped Esther to rebuild her life so she could care for baby Rebecca and secure her future. God calls us all by name, knowing all of us and seeing all of us.”
Christian women who live in countries on the World Watch List are doubly vulnerable because of both their faith and their female gender. As women, they often lack economic, social or political agency within their societies. As Christians, they are discriminated against and treated as second class citizens because of their faith.
The persecution experienced by Christian women is characterized by extreme levels of violence. Sexual violence and rape are among the most commonly reported forms of attack on Christian women. Rape is used as a weapon of persecution by anti-Christian religious extremists because it not only devastates the women, but destroys their families. Many cultures believe a rape victim is no longer pure and so brings shame on her family. The mother of a baby conceived out of wedlock brings shame to her family even if that child is a product of rape. The mother is seen as a “fallen woman” and the child is often bullied and rejected by the local community because of its parentage.
Open Doors is asking people to join its See. Change campaign by committing to support women like Esther and helping build a huge handmade petition. This petition will be presented to the UK Government at its Preventing Sexual Violence conference, as a unified prayer and plea on behalf of Christian women who are persecuted for both their faith and their gender.
Open Doors is asking the UK Government to ensure that the double vulnerability of women from religious minorities is recognised and built into government policy. For vulnerable women this will mean that they are no longer overlooked but are empowered to rebuild their lives. For example if a woman is raped by an extremists because she is a Christian she will want trauma counselling from a Christian rather than from someone who is from the same religion as her attackers. It costs £288 to provide trauma care to a woman who has been the victim of violent persecution.
More information about the See. Change. campaign, and details about how to order a handmade petition pack, can be found at opendoorsuk.org/seechange
Persecution of Christian women is often hidden and is invisible to their wider society, often because it blends in with culturally accepted mistreatment of women and because it is family enforced and not state sanctioned. The persecution of women is also complex. Persecution attacks from multiple angles and affects the whole Christian community.
Aisha, a Christian mother of three, was beaten and raped when Fulani herdsmen attacked her village in Northern Nigeria. She was left traumatised and unable to eat or sleep. Aisha attended a trauma healing workshop run by Open Doors’ partners. “I began to feel piece of mind. Even when I see a man that looked like one of the rapists, I don’t feel hatred towards him anymore. God taught me to forgive.”
During an Open Doors funded art therapy workshop, Aisha painted her self-portrait. She painted herself with golden tears as a symbol of God exchanging her mourning for joy and ashes for beauty. But her self-portrait also had a stern message: “I drew my picture without a smile on my face because I want everyone who sees it to know the pain I have experience and still have because this evil has not stopped happening in my community,” Aisha said. “I’m not the only one in my community – many other women have been raped.
“We do not have the strength to fight back and the attackers have a great advantage over us. We are not educated and don’t have the money to reach out and tell the world what is happening.”
Because of the trauma healing workshop Aisha knows that she is seen, heard and loved by God. Open Doors’ field work ensures women are treated with care and dignity, seen when isolated, empowered to read and enabled to earn to provide. It also helps the church respond positively rather than reinforcing the stigma associated with abuse and sexual violence.